Nail Salon Air Quality: 3 Carcinogens Found In Nail Salons


Nail Salon Air Quality: 3 Carcinogens Found In Nail Salons

Posted by FiltrScience on 04/18/2022

Nail Salon Air Quality: 3 Carcinogens Found In Nail Salons

Can your mani-pedi give you cancer? There is no way around this shocking question: many nail products use harmful chemicals. The more you use these products or the more time you spend in nail salons, the more you are exposed.


In 2016, the New York State Department of Health conducted a report studying chemicals found in nail salons. The report found that nail salons have dozens of chemicals that “can change over time”. They found over 30 chemicals and chemical categories, including but not limited to:

  • toluene, 
  • formaldehyde, 
  • dibutyl phthalate, 
  • methyl ethyl ketone, 
  • ethyl acetate, 
  • butyl acetate, 
  • acetone, 
  • acetonitrile, 
  • ethyl methacrylate, 
  • isopropyl acetate, 
  • methacrylic acid, 
  • methyl methacrylate (banned in many states), 
  • and quaternary ammonium compounds.

While all of these can cause a number of mild reactions, such as skin, eye, or respiratory irritation, there are more serious side effects for many of these, including nervous system and brain damage. Several of them are known carcinogens.

Today, we’re going to break down three of these chemicals and their known impacts on human health. No need to worry, though! We will also help you know how to avoid these harmful chemicals.



Formaldehyde is a chemical we often associate with preserving bodies, but it is used in a lot more situations than that. It has a strong-smell, but is also colorless and flammable. It is produced industrially and we often see it used in particleboard, plywood, and other building materials. It is also used frequently in fungicides, germicides, and disinfectants. Tobacco smoke also produces it as a combustion product.

According to the FDA, in nail products, formaldehyde is often used in polishes and nail hardeners. It naturally bonds with keratin in your nails to make them stronger, making it a powerful component of these products. Formaldehyde is sometimes listed under the ingredient names “formalin” and methylene glycol”.

This chemical is produced when plant material decays and during normal chemical processes that take place in many living organisms. This means we not only manufacture it but see it in the environment.

Because it is naturally occurring, can it still harm us? Unfortunately, yes.

With prolonged and high-levels of exposure, formaldehyde has been linked to myeloid leukemia and other rare cancers, including those impacting the paranasal sinuses, nasal cavity, and nasopharynx.


Barrels containing hazardous chemicals are depicted in front of a hazy outline of a building with smoke stacks pumping out smoke.

Ethyl Acrylate

Ethyl acrylate is a colorless liquid that is used to make denture materials, acrylic resins, plastics, and rubbers. In the nail product world, it is used as an acrylic monomer – which is what is used to create acrylic nails. Many monomers that use ethyl acrylate use it in the range of 70%-90%.

The New Jersey Department of Health warns that it “can affect the nervous system causing dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and headache”. The agency’s report also warns that exposure to ethyl acrylate in the workplace should be limited and it should be handled with extreme caution, as it has been known to cause stomach cancers in animals.


According to the Occupational Health And Safety Administration (OSHA), “Toluene is a clear, colorless liquid which becomes a vapor when exposed to air at room temperature. Toluene vapor has a sharp or sweet odor, which is a sign of exposure.”

We see toluene in many paints, varnishes, nail polishes, glues/adhesives, rust preventives and printing inks. Exposure comes from breathing it in, touching it, swallowing it, or having it come into contact with your eyes. 

It is listed as one of the hazardous chemicals OSHA found in common use in nail salons. There is debate over whether or not toluene is carcinogenic, but a 2021 study found a strong positive correlation with the development of thyroid cancer and the exposure to toluene. At the very least, toluene is well known to cause a number of other effects, including:

  • Eye and nose irritation,
  • Weakness,
  • Exhaustion,
  • Confusion,
  • Euphoria,
  • Dizziness,
  • Headache,
  • Dilated pupils,
  • Tears,
  • Anxiety,
  • Muscle fatigue,
  • Insomnia,
  • Numbness or tingling,
  • Liver and kidney damage,
  • Birth defects,
  • And miscarrage.


All of those are side effects we’d like to avoid… Unfortunately, that nail polish smell we so fondly associate with manis and pedis is the smell toluene.


Split scene of customers getting a pedicure and a manicure


How To Limit Your Exposure To Nail Salon Chemicals

While these chemicals have some pretty scary effects, depriving yourself of something that brings you joy is not the solution. This form of self care has both positive physical and mental health impacts.


When you get regular manicures, you keep your feet surface even which allows for more even weight distribution. Taking the time away from the business of life and putting away your phone while being in a social setting without pressure has also been linked towards improved mental health.


Not to mention, many people just enjoy it!


But can your mani-pedi give you cancer? If you are limiting your exposure to these chemicals, you will probably be okay! But the more time you spend exposing yourself to these chemicals in the air, the higher your risk for developing mild to severe complications.


So how do we keep ourselves safe when spending time in a nail salon?

  1. Avoid products that use harmful chemicals.
    Unfortunately, this is quite difficult to do. But you can inquire about the research your salon has done into the products they are using. There are also non-toxic products available! You can encourage your nail salon to include these products in their line-up.
  2. Wear personal protective equipment (PPE).
    While wearing an N95 mask and protective eye gear is a solution, it is not exactly relaxing. Not to mention, your skin is still being exposed to the chemicals being placed on your body.
  3. Promote good nail salon air quality through filtration.
    Whether that’s leaving the doors and windows open or investing in improving the HVAC system, improving the air quality to lower exposure to chemicals is important. This is the solution to improving the air quality and limiting exposure.


So what if leaving your windows open isn’t enough? And redoing the HVAC system isn’t a possibility?


Good news: you can use a cleanroom-grade air purifier designed for business spaces to clean your air!


Please allow us to introduce you to the Filtr Revolution!An image of the Filtr Revolution, a cleanroom grade air purifier that can help gyms get the benefits of outdoor exercise indoors.




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